“A despot welcomes a riot. Disorder provides an excuse to rescind liberties in order to restore calm. There are only two choices, after all: chaos and control. Even the creators of Get Smart understood that.”
So says Alfie Kohn in an article on nanny reality shows.
And it’s funny, I was just thinking that.
In a series of discussions about whether, at base, civilization depends on violence, somebody suggested that the reason Gandhi’s nonviolence worked was that the gigantic pile of followers could conceivably have turned violent at any moment — that that threat of violence was what was behind it all. Same with MLKJr.
That is completely in disagreement with my understanding of the dynamics of nonviolent power: a violent mob is easy to deal with: you fight them. You destroy them. You use greater force. The fact that they fought you proves that your power is needed to keep order. Rebellion supports authority. It’s all part of the same dynamic.
Nonviolent resistance somehow breaks that cycle, in a way that I don’t totally understand, but in a way that has worked many a time.
In a sense, nonviolent resistance works because it enlists the oppressor in the service of liberation: it tries to deliver both oppressor and oppressed from the yoke of oppression that binds them equally. That was how Arnold Toynbee saw it:
To Toynbee, Gandhi was “as much a benefactor of Britain as of his own country. He made it impossible for us to go on ruling India, but at the same time he made it possible for us to abdicate without rancour and without dishonour.”
Kohn continues to critique the disturbing ideology of the nanny shows, and it’s worth reading, but there’s a lot to be said for the political truth of that little one-liner at the beginning.